Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

TL;DR – King Arthur is a fascinating film as long as you don’t care that much about the source material, though it does have more than a few lulls and awkward story moments

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

King Arthur Legend of the Sword

Review

So this was a surprise, from all accounts, and my own expectations going in I was expecting a dumpster fire in movie form. Instead what I got was sure a flawed film in many respects but also a really interesting one as well. So today we are going to look out how this film approaches the legend, how the cast works, then the parts of the film that excel and the parts that really fall short. So let’s begin with how they approach the myth of King Arthur, and well it’s interesting.

Because it is in the public domain, the King Arthur story is one of those narratives that gets remade over and over again. We’ve had miniseries do a classical remake, we’ve had it reinterpreted into a teen angst drama, a side event on a fairy tale TV show, we found out that Camelot was a bit silly, and we even got it reimagined as a real world event as the Roman’s retreated. So you needed to do something new, make an interesting idea, approach it from a different angle, or else you risk the question of why should I watch this when there are already versions of this out there. So King Arthur: Legend of the Sword approaches this conundrum by just having the Arthurian legend as a window dressing for the story. So we have Arthur witnessing his parent’s death before being raised in a brothel and becoming a black market leader in an occupied town. You have some nods to people in the legend but some core members get barely a cameo, and some are missing altogether. On the one hand, this gives the filmmakers a lot of latitudes to tell a story that is not confined to a certain progression, on the other hand, if you are a fan of the original legend you are going to find the inconsistencies jarring. As well as this, they take bits of reference from everywhere and smash it together, we have the very magical Camelot existing at the same time as the real world Londinium after the Roman exodus, with a little Old Testament thrown in there for good reference. So this leads to a movie with giant elephants existing at the same time as negotiations with Norse traders, a martial arts master teaching students in an abandoned Roman bathhouse, and people of legend working within the social structures that existed at the time.

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Part of what worked for me is that it’s clear that the cast was on board for whatever Guy Ritchie threw at them. We have Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, who I’ve not see much of before but he really brings a command performance here, a sort of suave cockiness but also being a bit down to Earth, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is on a Bond shortlist somewhere.   Jude Law as Vortigern, is just eating up the stage stealing almost every scene he is in. The rest of the cast is given good performances, hell even the David Beckham cameo was incredibly watchable. Also, it’s just great to see Eric Bana back on the big screen, Hollywood needs to cast him in more movies.

Something that I really found interesting with King Arthur is how Guy Richie took a film set in the Middle Ages, or a weird alternate reality where after the Romans left mages traipsed around England in giant elephants, but also embodied it in what is a very modern style. The outfits, the hairstyles, all feel a bit out of time, but it is more than that. In many ways, there is also this undercurrent of a modern gangster film beating just under the surface. I mean at one point Uther (Eric Bana) literally goes ‘hold my crown’ before jumping straight off a collapsed bridge into the previously mention giant elephants. This is also reinforced with editing style of the film, uses a combination to frantic montage scenes, this might have some of the best montage scenes I have seen in a very long time. As well as this, King Arthur has some really interesting sequence editing, which for the audience has a way of keeping you always on your toes. A good example of this is where Arthur plays out what would happen if he is introduced to the great families of England.

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays 'The Mage' or 'I am an important character from the myth whose identity won't be revealed until the sequel'

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays ‘The Mage’ or ‘I am an important character from the myth whose identity won’t be revealed until the sequel’

One big standout for me was the musical score by Daniel Pemberton. I’m a big fan of bending musical styles, or taking something familiar and putting a new spin on it, or using music as a juxtaposition and it is here where King Arthur shines. Most high fantasy films or medieval period pieces use a classic orchestral score, which I’m not knocking at all, I mean just listen to the power of Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings or Ramin Djawadi’s score for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But it is nice to see someone put a spin on the familiar, which is what we get here. The standout has to be what I think was an electric violin or a real violin that has been modified in post-production. Using an instrument that couldn’t exist at the time creates this interesting dichotomy and helps create that modern veneer that the movie sits in. As well as this, King Arthur also has a fantastic driving drum beat during some of the action and montage scenes, which really jells with the slight frenetic pace of the editing. All of this is combined to create a really interesting soundscape in the film.

Now while there are some interesting parts in King Arthur there are a couple of things that do really hold it back, though how big of a problem these are might change for you. While I did like the story overall there were some issues, for example, it did start to feel that this was a film with some great action scenes and other sequences, but in-between them there was a lot of treading water waiting for the next moment of action. [Spoilers] As well as this, it does feel like a lot of character motivations ended up on the cutting room floor so we are left with some weird scenarios. You can see this with Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen) who is shown throughout the film to be incredibly smart and knowledgeable, who forgets all of that when he risks everyone’s lives to kill Earl of Mercia for no reason. Also, at one point Arthur is betrayed by one of his own, but we see no reason for why this person turned it’s just like they’re good, oh wait, nope not anymore. Another big issue was that some of the fight scenes it became very clear that it was a CGI model fighting and not an actor. This is disappointing because other than this, the rest of the CGI and visual effects are really good. [End of Spoilers]

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

In the end, even with its problems, I did really enjoy this weird ride called King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. When you have actor throwing themselves into the roles, a story that is bonkers but people care how portrayed, beautiful sets, and a rocking score, well you have the components of an interesting film. Of course, that being said, if you really like the Arthur legend and you are not a fan of big diversions well this might not be the film for you.

 

 Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by – Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram & Joby Harold
Story By – David Dobkin & Joby Harold
‘Based on’King Arthur Legend
Music by – Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography by – John Mathieson
Edited by – James Herbert
Starring
– Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, Annabelle Wallis, Bleu Landau, Mikael Persbrandt, David Beckham, Michael McElhatton, Peter Ferdinando, Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

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Movie Review – The Legend of Tarzan

TL;DR – There are some aspects of this film that just work, but there are others that just don’t, if you do go to see it you will probably enjoy it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to.

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Review

Hollywood remaking movies from the past are all the rage at the moment, with Disney doing live versions of their classic cartoons, we’ll have a Magnificent 7 film later this year, and the list goes on and on. This week we have the remake of the Classic Tarzan film/book series with The Legend of Tarzan. As far as reboots go, it’s ok, but there are a lot of issues with it, well one big one really, and all of that draws it down quite a bit.

Firstly, the one thing that does work well is the cast, mostly, we’ll get to that in a moment. Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson & Christoph Waltz all play off each other and the other cast wonderfully. Lady Jane (Margot Robbie) really brings some much-needed heart to this film, but also she has a savage tongue, that throws shade like it is going out of business, for such a young actor to hold their own against Christoph Waltz is a real achievement. Speaking of Mr Waltz, I know he can do good characters just as well, but come one he might have replaced Gary Oldman as the go to power bad guy in films. Also, you have Samuel J., and that man can make even terrible film roles look good, and here he has already got a good role to work with.

There are some beautiful vistas

There are some beautiful vistas

From a story perspective, Tarzan takes an interesting choice of starting the film post-Tarzan after his adventures have ended and Tarzan is back in England becoming John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke. Thus the story is all about him and Jane being brought back to the African continent, which is then spliced in with an origin story told through flashbacks. It mostly works, but I wonder if inter-splicing the flashbacks throughout the film was the best for pacing, and if maybe chucking them all together at the start would have been better. However, the film has some good emotional beats, a couple of humorous moments, and some decent action. The CGI is mostly ok, there are a couple of points where the animals are clearly generated, but you kind of go with it, but there are some moments when Tarzan is swinging through the jungle where it looks quite off. The set design and consuming all works well for the period piece, and they make good use of some African establishing shots, though interestingly the film was not filmed in Africa. Also, I think they would have wished this came out before Captain America: Civil War with regards to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou).

The Legend of Tarzan is an interesting film and a lot of it works, as I have mentioned, but the one thing that didn’t work, and it really draws the film down is in the casting of the lead Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård). Firstly, I do have to say that Alexander does have the physicality to play Tarzan, that man is ripped, but he doesn’t have the emotional range to play the role. Alexander plays the role of Tarzan as cold and distant, and he is like that pretty much the whole way throughout the film. This is placed in stark contrast to the rest of the cast, which all have a range of emotions and performances. Now when saying this I don’t know if this issue is Alexander’s performance, or how he was directed to act, but either way, it just does not work, and when the film’s lead does not work you have problems.

It just felt like there were so many missed opportunities with Tarzan

It just felt like there were so many missed opportunities with Tarzan

Tarzan is one of the growing number of films that have become more and more problematic as time goes on like The Phantom, Jungle Book etc. that are part of a period of literature that had the habit of romanticising the colonial occupation of the world. So if you want to take on a project like this you need to be much more careful with your depictions than you would have had to do not that long ago, and Tarzan does this mostly quite well. First, they have introduced some real life characters to the story like George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who outside of Tarzan has an amazing story that you should read up on, and Captain Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) whose brutalities against the Congolese people horrified the world even back then. Both of these real figures, even though they are quite dramatised, really help give the story some weight, however, the ending [SPOILERS] implies that the Belgians left the Congo in peace, when in fact, that would not happen until the 1960s [SPOILERS]. Also, the movies depictions of African Culture are quite respectful on the whole, and they do depict the brutality of the European occupation clearly, so overall some good points and bad.

So do I recommend The Legend of Tarzan, um yes/no? It is not a film I would say that you should go out of your way to see like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, however, if you are going to see a film and someone suggests Tarzan, you can do a lot worse at the moment and you’ll probably enjoy it.

 

Directed by – David Yates
Written by – Adam Cozad & Craig Brewer
Based onTarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring – Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou & Jim Broadbent
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12a; USA: PG-13